Jewish World Review Nov. 9, 2001 / 26 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762
All of this fear and loathing is the result of my asking one simple question: If a celebrity asks for money for a charitable cause, does that celebrity have any responsibility to see that the money donated finds its way to the cause?
At issue are the concerts and TV telethon that raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the grieving families of the terror victims. As of four weeks after the attack, the United Way, which is distributing the donations, had more than $200 million in the bank, according to its own records, but had dispersed only 15 percent of the money it had collected to agencies in a position to help the families.
And the Red Cross has told Congress that as much as 80 percent of the money it has received through 9-11 fundraisers will not go to the families. Instead, it will be used by the Red Cross for other projects.
Right now, 160 charities have received money that was donated to help the families. Yet very few of those charities have contacted the grieving people. They are not proactive. They want the people who are burying dead husbands and wives to seek them out. They want the families to ask for money -- money that was donated by generous Americans so that these families would not have to deal with this kind of angst.
The House Ways and Means Committee is holding hearings on the matter. The Attorney General of New York is supposedly setting up a Web site to help the families, yet that is taking a very, very long time. And Elliot Spitzer is not exactly taking to the airwaves publicizing it.
The United Way is thinking about running television public-service announcements to tell the families where they can get information and help. They've been thinking about that for more than a month. It hasn't happened yet.
In light of all these facts, I asked the telethon celebrities to issue a statement on the chaotic charity situation. None of them would.
So I went on television and named some of those famous people that would not respond. Wooo. All of a sudden, statements came flying faster than a Letterman wisecrack. George Clooney called me a liar. Tom Hanks said my reporting was a TV "sweeps" stunt. Faith Hill said she was appalled that I would dare to question the telethon.
Only four out of more than 100 celebrities stepped up and voiced any concern that the donated money was not being handled properly: Clint Eastwood, the singer James Brown, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. They didn't all agree with me about celebrity accountability, but at least they cared enough to discuss the issue.
People are asking me if I am surprised by the vicious tone of some of the Hollywood attacks on me. No, I'm not. Many of these people are outraged that someone in the press would attempt to hold them accountable for anything. After all, they are stars . They lead lives of privilege and are rarely confronted with the realities of life, as long as they are making big money.
Most stars have publicists who pretty much tell them what to say and how to act in public. These publicists threaten anyone who would criticize a star with banishment. That is, if you say something negative, the star will never talk to you again, and neither will anyone he or she knows. Thus, the entertainment press is effectively blackmailed. Only the tabloid press can scrutinize the famous.
The serious press rarely even pays attention to celebrities because what they do is not important to national security or general welfare. I very rarely venture into celebrity territory. But these stars got great publicity at those telethons, and millions of Americans believed their pitch. So I really wanted to know how the celebrities viewed the charity disaster that has unfolded. Boy, did I find out.
Call me cynical, but I now believe that most of these "stars" are far more interested in themselves than trying to get relief to the grieving families. A statement of concern is very easy to release. But most of them simply could not be bothered.
Now they're hot and bothered -- and I say good. A phony is a phony. And no overpaid publicist is going to change
11/06/01: The fear factor